Lele Mask

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Carved wood and pigments
Early 20th century
Height: 11 in. (28 cm)

Ex collection Christian Van Lierde, Belgium
Ex Galerie Ratton-Hourdé, Paris
Ex private collection, Paris since 2003

Yale University Archive GVR : 0129315-01

Price: sold

Afrique Centrale
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The Lele live west of the Kasai River, north of the Pende and across the river from the Kuba. They are a matrilineal society, organized around age grades.
As stated by the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Lele masks have much in common, both visually and functionally, with those of their neighbors in the central Kuba kingdom, but are much rarer.
Such masks appear principally at the funerals of chiefs and elders but are also used in annual reenactments performances of the founding of the Lele people that celebrate and teach the history of Lele origins and migrations.
The spots on the mask suggest the markings of a leopard. Leopards have great importance among the Lele. When a man kills a leopard, he gains status among his age set. Diviners are said to transform themselves into leopards, especially when they battle the sorcerer of another village, which may appear in the form of a leopard.